Exhausted from a long day, you indulge in the perfect liquid — wine. It’s delicious, may be good for your heart and melts away your stress. That glass of wine eases an evening filled with endless tasks, perhaps monitoring your children’s homework and bedtime routines. Maybe it feels like everyone wins: you treat yourself to a soothing drink and your household gets a more patient you.
But what if that one glass turns into two and then three, and before you know it, the bottle is almost gone? When do you say enough?
“Having a glass of wine with dinner every night is fine, but it can become problematic when you routinely have two or three glasses,” cautions Danielle Cauley, a licensed professional and certified substance-abuse counselor in Williamsburg, Va.
More importantly, what are the reasons that you are drinking? If you are connecting with your partner about your day, that is much different than needing it to cope or to tackle your evening.”
If you know that alcohol is negatively impacting your health, the way you are managing your life or your relationships, then it’s time to take a hard look at how much and how often you drink. “There is a fine line between enjoyment and abuse, where you end up needing to consistently drink,” Cauley advises. “Even if you say you just enjoy the taste, there can be deeper reasons causing you to drink every day. If someone has commented about your drinking or shared a concern about it, that’s a red flag.”
Sleep problems, poor digestion and pasty skin
Alcohol in moderation is fine, but nightly drinking can have a pretty drastic effect on your body. One drink lowers your inhibitions, paving the way to imbibe subsequent glasses of chardonnay and to eat more than you should. Your evening plans to be productive can get sidelined as you binge-watch Netflix or crash early.
Alcohol can adversely affect your sleep, making it harder to get up in the morning and leaving you tired all day. Without the energy to cope in healthy ways, the stress piles on, which then makes drinking all the more enticing. This circular pattern is unhealthy, Cauley says: “Sleep problems due to drinking are the most common side effect I see in my practice. Alcohol makes it difficult to get into REM or restorative sleep, which happens in cycles during the first five hours.” If you drink before you go to bed, you are robbing yourself of the most restful time of the night, leaving you exhausted the following day.
Alcohol also increases the acidity in your stomach, causing digestive problems such as bloating, the second-most common side effect that Cauley hears about. Women also complain to her about their complexions. Alcohol dehydrates your body, resulting in pasty and older-looking skin.
Best Ways to Limit Drinking
What are the best ways to limit your alcohol intake?
One option is to go cold turkey for six weeks. If you can make it that long, you most likely aren’t suffering from substance use disorder, the new name for alcoholism. If you fall back into your habits, you will need a new approach.
“The best way to stop is to not have it in your house,” Cauley recommends. “You may be able to resist it for a week or more, but if it’s there, you will eventually drink it. Talk with a friend or significant other for support and accountability. If those two strategies don’t work, seek outside help. Often just talking with a counselor for a few sessions about how drinking hinders your life goals can help.”
If you do abstain from alcohol, you may find yourself craving sugar — a natural reaction to abstinence. “Your body turns alcohol into sugar and carbohydrates, so when you stop drinking, your body looks for that sugar spike,” Cauley says. “The first four days can be the hardest as your body learns to adjust. It’s helpful to understand this is why you are craving sugar and realize this is a secondary step. Drink lots of water to flush the system during this adjustment.”
Fluids with electrolytes can also ease your transition, as can exercise, which reestablishes circadian rhythms, releases endorphins to boost your mood and makes you feel mentally and physically stronger.
Strategies to Deal with Peer Pressure
- Even if you abstain in your house, you will encounter people who will pressure you to drink. Here are some tips to deal with those situations:
- Be upfront and reveal that you have decided to cut back. You might be admired and asked for advice.
- Make the excuse that you are on a medication that reacts badly with alcohol or that you are on a special diet.
- Order seltzer with a lime to look like a cocktail, cranberry juice in a wine glass or a mocktail.
- Set a phone alarm with an encouraging reminder of your moderation goals for the evening.
- Drink a lot of water to curb your thirst before you head out.
- If you end up with a cocktail, take it to the bathroom, dump it out and refill with water.
- If you know there is no hope for controlling yourself, just skip the party and see your friends at a non-alcoholic event.